Becky’s Beach Glass Design – An Example of Irresponsible Tourism?

This is a news story that has developed over the last few days in local media.

Basically, a US tourist, who happens to be a jeweler specialising in incorporating sea glass into her works, came to Bermuda, scooped up about 70 pounds (about 32 kilograms) of sea glass from Bermudian waters, and took it to the USA where she’s made a handsome profit from it. By her own admission she came to Bermuda explicitly for this purpose, as part of her business.

Now, there’s a few problems with her actions here.

For one thing, that she came to Bermuda for this explicit purpose breaches our laws regarding work permits. She would have required at least a temporary work permit for this action – it was illegal for her to do what she did as a tourist.

More importantly, it is against Bermudian law to remove sea glass from the beach in the first place, and it’s also against the law to export this.

The relevant legislation in question can be found here…

Now, Ms Fox, the jeweler, has since compounded matters, by being quite frank in the US media about what she did, and then blocking, and deleting comments by, Bermudians and others who have been critical of her actions and pointed out how she broke the law and has been quite insulting to our people.

She’s also playing the victim here and telling folk she’s being bullied and people are making things up. As she’s deleting comments pointing out exactly how she broke the law and refusing people the right of reply, some of her readers are indeed believing that she is being bullied and has done nothing wrong.

Now, I don’t intend to get into a whole discussion about Ms Fox here.

Quite frankly, she broke the law, she’s acted very insultingly to Bermuda and Bermudians, and her behavior has been quite poor and disappointing. I think she could have defused the whole thing immediately after her wrong-doing was pointed out to her. She could have simply said something along the lines of:

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realise what I did was wrong and clearly misunderstood the laws of Bermuda. I am sorry to anyone that I have hurt and will be contacting the Bermudian authorities to work out how best to resolve this issue in an amicable way, and all the profits that from sale of Bermuda glass jewellery is being donated to these environmental charities in Bermuda. Lesson learned.”

That would have been enough I think.

Our people are largely forgiving, and an honest recognition of making a mistake and taking steps to make good would have been welcomed. Heck, we probably would have helped advertise her wares – it would raise money for our charities, boost awareness of our local artisans and be a good little tourism advertisement for Bermuda. Her refusal to even accept any wrong-doing and compounding it by insulting our people and trying to silence us, yeah, that’s left a rather sour taste and won’t be forgotten.

I for one hope that our Government will be taking steps to:

  • Seek compensation from Ms Fox;
  • Tighten up regulations concerning sea glass and other artifacts;
  • Boost local artisans;
  • Ramp up inspections.

Responsible Tourism

However, I digress. There’s really not much more that can be said on this story that hasn’t been said already in the media or by hordes of my righteously irate compatriots on various social media.

What I find most interesting about this incident, other than the imperialist mindset of a White American tourist in appropriating other peoples natural and cultural resources, is how this allows us to really focus on what kind of tourism we want for Bermuda, and what are the possible consequences/impacts of tourism in Bermuda?

The Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”.

I think that’s a pretty decent definition, and should really be the ideal form of tourism that we want – and the kind of tourists we should be when we travel.

Now this definition is not simply ‘green’ tourism. One can build a resort with the latest green tech, or go on an explicitly nature vacation (hiking in a natural park, etc), without meeting this criteria. It also has to ensure economic benefit to ordinary people and not threaten or undermine the local economy and culture.

If one were to apply this concept to this particular incident, then not taking our sea glass was the responsible thing to do. Supporting local artisans was the responsible thing to do. Perhaps asking to work with some of our local sea glass artisans would have been the right things to do, and even arranging to help sell their products in the USA through her site would have been the responsible thing to do.

Doing all this would have ensured the sustainability of our sea glass beaches (certainly a lot more than carting away 70 pounds of it!) and boosted the local economy and artisans.

This principle can apply to tourism in general for Bermuda. It means making sure that the impact on our environment and infrastructure is sustainable, that it doesn’t destroy the very nature that attracts tourists here in the first place (and environment here means more than just beaches, clear blue waters and greenery – it extends to pollution, litter, energy use, waste management, food, water, traffic, etc).

And it also means that tourism should benefit ordinary people. I don’t mean the bank accounts of the elite, of the 1%. I mean ordinary people overall. We all recognise that there is some degree of trickle down from tourism, even if it’s just revenue collected by the government and used for public services.

However, I’m thinking more in terms or increasing local economic links and reducing leakage of the tourist dollar overseas (or into the bank accounts of the elite), and this means ensuring the tourist dollar is more equitable spread (through using local entertainers, boosting local artisans, using small businesses as much as possible, relying on local farmers as much as possible). Doing this – and shifting to renewable energy – all keeps the tourist dollar local and spreads it around more equitably, while also supporting local enterprise and culture.

Starting a Conversation?

There’s A LOT that can be written about responsible tourism and how it can be applied to the benefit of Bermuda.

I’ve already written a longer piece than I like writing – I just think that if some good is to come out of this incident it is that we might be able to start a conversation about tourism in Bermuda – what are it’s negative impacts, how do we address them, what kind of sustainable tourism do we want and how do we go about realising it? Just for starters…

 

Freedom of Speech?

Remember ‘Je suis Charlie’?

At the very beginning of the year the world, or at least the Western world, was transfixed by the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. This attack by some rather disturbed individuals was, I think it’s fair to say, a reaction to the Islamophobic imagery and rhetoric produced by this magazine, imagery that was deliberately provocative and daring a response.

While the vast majority of those offended by these provocations chose to either ignore it or to combat it equally with the pen, these two disturbed individuals sought to combat it literally with a hail of bullets.

Almost immediately the Western world, Bermuda included, was swamped with ‘Je suis Charlie’ demonstrations, strongly defending that freedom of speech included the right to offend. Our politicians spoke eloquently along these lines too. The basic argument was that people are free to speak and free to oppose the speech of others, but such speech should not be censored or otherwise stifled.

Today, a mere nine months on, many of those who spoke so eloquently in defence of free speech in January, today seem happy to enforce censorship and champion the use of our stop list to ban an individual for voicing provocative and offensive views.

***For overseas readers, the ‘stop-list’ is a way of barring entry to Bermuda of those the Government decides to be undesirables. Should they get to the airport or dock, they’re refused entry and put back on the next vessel leaving the island.***

Free Speech or Hate Speech?

There is of course a large body of discourse around the issue of freedom of speech and hate speech:

  • What is the fine line between the two?
  • How should the latter be handled without impinging on free speech?

To be clear, I personally find Mr Kimathi’s views abhorrent, and I do indeed think they stray into the category of hate speech – as regards Whites and those who stray from a fictional heterosexual dichotomy of sexual orientation, gender or gender codes. And I do believe Mr Kimanthi, has advocated (although it’s not clear how explicitly he did in Bermuda) violence towards these segments of our society.

Now, incitement to violence is a crime, and if Mr Kimathi did this, then he should indeed be charged and face trial accordingly. Espousing ridiculous opinions without any basis in science, that may be a crime against oneself, general decency and logic, however it is not a crime in the sense of being subject to arrest and trial.

Making a Martyr?

The problem with banning Mr Kimathi like this – without a police investigation and trial, and even before the Human Rights Commission has been able to investigate the matter properly – is that it risks making him, and his ideology, almost a martyr, in the sense of not being accorded due process or proper scrutiny. It actually benefits Mr Kimathi as he can now appeal to his followers about an injustice, and use it to fuel his ravings. It’s easy to spin – the reason I was banned was because I spoke the truth and threatened the White elite who rule Bermuda! Easily done.

A far better approach would be to allow Mr Kimathi’s ideology to be fully scrutinised by the people, to be refuted ideologically, to be confronted with peaceful demonstration to say that his ideology, what he represents, is not supported by the majority of our people. Those who are partial to his ideology could exchange arguments and, potentially, be convinced otherwise. That’s how to defeat Mr Kimanthi’s ideology and appeal.

Instead, now he can wear his ban as a badge of honour, as the mark of a martyr.

And those on island who support his hateful ideology may well go underground, where the ideology cannot be challenged, where it can only harden and find itself – potentially – in violent expression. This form of authoritatian reaction is a perfect incubator for extremism; it is a recipe for it finding fertile ground in those in our society who feel lost, alienated and resentful.

Setback for Race Relations?

One particular victim of Mr Kimathi and Minister Fahy’s reaction is that it has very much set back what was left of reasonable discussion concerning structural racism in Bermuda.

The topic that Mr Kimathi’s speech was advertised about, of the need for better education and understanding of African history and contribution to our society, is one that we need. The Ashay programme, now aborted, was an attempt to provide just this, as a complement to the dominant European narrative in our society.

However due to Mr Kimathi’s hateful ideology, one that I think can only be characterised as a particularly perverse form of Black supremacism (as opposed to Black Power), all talk of such an initiative is derailed. Heck, any talk of really confronting structural racism in Bermuda as a whole is likely derailed, at least set back. It will be all too easy for those opposed (for whatever reason) to such a frank discussion to frame it in terms of Mr Kimathi’s arguments, and use this as an excuse not to engage.

Incitement to Violence

To me, the only limit that should be placed on free speech is that of incitement to violence.

Anything else, as abhorrent as they may be, deserves simply to be derided and challenged with alternative argument, or met by peaceful demonstration (or both). Or even simply ignored and let to peter out as an absurdity clear to all.

The use of a stop list is a slippery slope and one that I think we all need to be concerned about.

I am not convinced – at all – that it was an appropriate reaction. At the very least, the decision should only have followed the Human Rights Commission report on Mr Kimathi’s actions on island.

A stop list is open to abuse, to stifling debate and reducing the diversity of thought that should be the oxygen of any democracy.

My thinking is that an ideologue should only be subject to a stop list if – and only if – they have been convicted of inciting violence. After being convicted of this, and paying either the fine or serving time in prison, or some sort of restorative justice, they can be denied further entry on this basis. And that basis alone, regardless of how disgusting I find the individuals ideology.

Return to Reasoned Conversation Needed

What we do need, and desperately, is a return to a frank conversation about structural racism in Bermuda – its causes, its consequences, possible steps to end it (of which a frank conversation is but an important first step). A better appreciation of the role of African history and culture in our collective history has a key role to play here too.

Quite frankly, we either do this properly or we leave a vacuum to be filled by pseudo-scientific and hate-filled ravings like those peddled by Mr Kimanthi.

***For avoidance of doubt, I don’t think this action was taken lightly by the Government, and I don’t think there was any conspiracy about it, although I can understand why some on social media are articulating it as such. I think the Government has acted in good faith here, trying to do the right thing. The issue of free speech and hate speech is a very complex and difficult one, one that is emotive and I don’t think there’s any one right answer. I just think that the litmus test should be incitement to violence, where the alleged incitee is provided with due process. That’s my belief, and I think it’s a reasonable one, although I certainly understand the passions that Mr Kimathi’s speech (and history) have riled. To me, a strong democracy must take great care on matters of freedom of speech, and dealing with our structural race problems are key to the long-term sustainability of our society and democracy.***

Here’s Johnny!

As luck would have it, only a month after officially winning the 2015 Best of Bermuda Award for blogging, I lost my home internet access. I was expecting to only be offline for a week or two, however that turned out to be wildly optimistic.

Two months later, I’ve finally got internet back!

Being more or less offline for the last two months has been interesting. It certainly has its pros and cons – however, with our increasingly technologically dependent society, I feel the lack of email access was certainly a major con.

The time has allowed me to focus on some other matters, and I am continuing to consider a different approach for this site. I haven’t made a decision yet, but I hope to trial a few things shortly.social media

Limited internet access…

Apologies to readers, however I have had limited internet access for the last two weeks, and likely for the next two weeks also.

So posting is kind of on hiatus at the moment – think of it as an extended CupMatch blogging holiday….

As soon as I’m able to get a regular and secure connection, I’ll be back to posting properly.

Article on Municipal Reform

So, I’ve got an article on Bernews today, written in reaction to the Municipal Amendment Act 2015 (no.2).

While I don’t comment on the articles themselves – as I find that completely derails the conversation even more than usual – I do occasionally break that commandment of the internet and read the comments on them. I do this primarily because I look forward to constructive criticism, added information or generally get some ideas on how to improve my writing style.

City Hall

City Hall

I must admit quite often I find the comments confusing at times – I find it difficult sometimes to really understand where some of the comments are coming from.

Perhaps the article wasn’t clear enough, or perhaps people are just reacting to it through a prejudicial lens and as a result are simply seeing something there that either isn’t there or I myself am self-blinded to?

What I’ll try and do here is respond to some of the main questions or comments that seem to be raised in the comments section, for the sake of an attempted clarification.

1) Do I think Team Hamilton worked out?

No – and I’ve been critical of Team Hamilton over the years. I, like many others, had some high hopes for them, but was disappointed by several of the more questionable actions taken by them. I don’t, however, fully blame them, and I think some of the coverage has only portrayed part of the story.

Take for example the whole car-parking fiasco (clamping, etc). As far as I can tell, the fault here lies with the Government, not City Hall. City Hall appears to have taken all the necessary responsible actions to try and follow the law concerning clamping. However, the hold-up came from Government in not Gazetting it properly – as I understand the situation. Government could have easily resolved that fiasco, but I almost feel as if Government were deliberately holding it up to apply pressure on an administration they had issues with. That’s just how it seems to me.

It’s also clear that City Hall was having cash flow problems resulting from the loss of wharfage fees that was a consequence from the Municipal Amendment Act 2010. Getting tough on parking issues – via clamping – was supposed to help alleviate those financial pressures, but…

I don’t think Team Hamilton was all that bad however. I think they did quite a lot of good work amongst the bad, and in particular I commend them for the work they undertook at Princess Street and Ewing Street, as well as the initiative they took to increase footfall along Court Street.

And just because Team Hamilton wasn’t all that great, does not justify, in my opinion, the undermining of municipal democracy, which several of the OBA’s reforms have done, especially this current one. There were alternatives to improving the system, rather than thoroughly undermining it like the Government has.

Essentially though, in answer to this question, criticism of the current direction of the OBA does not translate into full support for Team Hamilton. Things aren’t that black and white and it’s a mistake to interpret such criticism so simplistically.

2) The business vote…

A number of comments have focused on my reference to the business vote, and seem to have thoroughly misunderstood what I was saying here.

Yes, I’m skeptical of the business vote, but that’s not really the point I was making. I do have concerns that with the introduction of the business vote, in the weighted way they’ve done it, it’s handed the business vote an effective veto on the city council – it’s handed majority power to the business vote (in St George’s it’s the reverse). I am disappointed, as I say in the article, that the interests of both business and residents has not been balanced – rather the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, away from residents and to business. If we are going to have a business vote, then I think they should be balanced on the council, not weighted in such a way that one dominates the other.

This also speaks to the comment that ‘his claim about non-resident reps is a lie’. I never said there weren’t any resident representatives on the City council – no where in the article do I say that. I simply say that the interests of the two blocks of voters (residents and businesses) have not been balanced; that the business vote dominates and controls the council under the new system.

3) Why didn’t he demand the release of the $800k PLP municipal report under the PLP? And where was he before the OBA Government?

I did.

This poster either hasn’t bothered to fact check or simply doesn’t care. Either way, they are simply mistaken and creating misinformation, be it intentional or not.

This same commentator wonders why there were no continuous sit-ins or protests or articles from me under the PLP.

Well, there were articles of me, critical of the PLP before the OBA came to power. Most of those articles were online here, but there are plenty of formal media articles where I express crticism of various actions the PLP took when in power.

I also think it’s important to note that I really didn’t get involved in politics, in a local active sense, until around 2006. While in the Regiment (2003-2006) I felt it was inappropriate to be actively involved, rightly or wrongly.

Also, social media (for which I owe a lot of whatever public profile I have, through this blog primarily) only really got off the ground around 2006 or so – this site itself dates from 2007. Bernews itself only dates from 2010, and the rise of Facebook as a site for political discourse only really developed around that time too, and especially only since 2012.

Beyond that, in 2007 I decided to pursue a career change and realised I’d need to go back to school for that – and so I left in August 2008 for post-graduate studies, and was off island until June 2011. So I couldn’t really be organising protests or sit-ins in Bermuda while I was overseas – although I did continue to write on this site.

And it was only towards the end of 2012, with the election, that I gained a certain degree of a public profile that led to my being able to write articles outside of this site – and also with the changes to social media that occurred around that time that I realised it might be necessary to move beyond posting on this site only.

4) The business vote was not controversial!

I think the commentator has a different definition of controversy than I.

That it has exercised some of the most passionate debates around democracy, and was involved in the genesis of protests and angry exchanges in parliament, both under the PLP and the OBA, indicates to me that it is controversial. To the commentator it may be a matter of common sense that there be a business vote in municipal elections, but that’s got very little to do with whether that policy is or isn’t controversial in our political context.

[There’s plenty links I could post to articles on this controversial policy, both for and against – I’ve only included two to indicate that there are clear divisions on it.]

Again though, the business vote wasn’t the focus of the article…

5) Starling’s biased against the OBA!

I’m constantly amazed by this insight. Of course I’m biased against the OBA, that’s hardly a secret. My ideological position (Marxism) is inherently opposed to the OBA which is very much a political manifestation of our local bourgeoisie. Is it any wonder that I’ll be biased against them?

Bias in and of itself is not a problem. If anything it’s only when one’s unaware of ones bias that it’s a problem – my bias is explicit.

I write as a political commentator, not as a neutral political journalist. I have an angle, I have an ideology. I have no obligation to be objective in my treatment of the OBA – I’ve never claimed to write as a neutral, only as an independent – independent of both the OBA and the PLP. Sometimes my positions align with the PLP, sometimes they align with the OBA (on various social issues and political reforms – although the OBA haven’t moved on any of the political reforms I share with them). Often they align with neither, but as the OBA’s in power they’re the focus of my critique.

This same commentator also repeats the lie that I failed to criticise the PLP ‘at every turn throughout their 14 years of mismanagement’ – which as I touch on in point 3 above is patently false and more misinformation.

Missing the point…

Pretty much every commentator has completely missed the central point I was making in the article, which is that the Municipal Amendment Act 2015 (no.2) fatally undermines any notion of a functioning municipal democracy. It gives the Minister the power to assume direct control of the municipality solely on the Ministers subjective belief that such is necessary.

St George's Town Hall

St George’s Town Hall

No objective test is required for the Minister to take such action. The Minister can simply decided that ‘it is his belief’ that s/he needs to take control of the municipality. As the Minister is not accountable to the municipal voters – be they business or resident – it is an affront to democracy and renders municipal self-governance a pointless exercise.

Those commentators taking me to task about the business vote – and why they should be represented – seem blind to the fact that this amendment essentially makes all votes, whether they’re business or residential, meaningless.

Perhaps that got lost in between the additional points, that of an ad hoc and chaotic series of reforms (five in two and a half years) that demonstrates a policy failure on the part of the OBA, and that no such reforms should happen while there are some serious allegations that touch on the very municipal reforms (motives and process) that the OBA have and are doing.

The central point though is that this current amendment essentially abolishes the municipalities from a democratic perspective – it neuters them to, at best, a Quango, and is an insult to all municipal voters.

 

Behind Germany’s refusal to grant Greece debt relief – Op-Ed in The Guardian

I am thoroughly disappointed with the Greek Government’s vote last night to effectively capitulate to the Troika, despite the momentum they won from the successful No vote last Sunday.

I am increasingly convinced by the argument of Costas Lapavistas that the only viable option left for Greece now is a default and departure from the Eurozone.

Here former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis articulates some of the reality behind the Troika’s approach.

Yanis Varoufakis

Tomorrow’s EU Summit will seal Greece’s fate in the Eurozone. As these lines are being written, Euclid Tsakalotos, my great friend, comrade and successor as Greece’s Finance Ministry is heading for a Eurogroup meeting that will determine whether a last ditch agreement between Greece and our creditors is reached and whether this agreement contains the degree of debt relief that could render the Greek economy viable within the Euro Area. Euclid is taking with him a moderate, well-thought out debt restructuring plan that is undoubtedly in the interests both of Greece and its creditors. (Details of it I intend to publish here on Monday, once the dust has settled.) If these modest debt restructuring proposals are turned down, as the German finance minister has foreshadowed, Sunday’s EU Summit will be deciding between kicking Greece out of the Eurozone now or keeping it in for a little while longer, in a state of…

View original post 1,227 more words

Some Saturday Musings

OBA Lies?

I’m surprised that all of a sudden there’s a debate about the OBA’s 2012 election promise of creating 2000 jobs.

As election promises go, this one seemed clear to me as being empty fluff – it didn’t contain any clear policy commitment (like holding a referendum on casino gambling or suspending term limits for two years for a review) – it was just nonsense.  Irresponsible nonsense at that.

They were challenged at the time to explain how they would achieve this objective – along with explaining their economic plan – but their defence of the promise was nothing more than bluster along the lines of ‘trust us’.

It was irresponsible because it played on both the fears and the hopes of the people, without articulating how it would be achieved – it was little more than a cynical electoral ploy.

Of course, the OBA weren’t the first political party (in Bermuda or elsewhere) to adopt such a cynical election ploy, nor will they be the last.

I don’t think this was directly responsible for the OBA winning in 2012, but it could be seen as part of a web of election promises that we can now look back upon as either a direct lie (such as the casino gambling referendum promise or suspending term limits for two years pending a review) or empty fluff (and basically nonsense that just sounded good) – and this web of deceit and emptiness no doubt did contribute to their electoral victory, when taken in its entirety.

I argued last year, during the various discussions relating to the cancellation of the casino gambling referendum, that the OBA’s actions were making a mockery of electoral promises and platforms going forward, and rendering our politics farcical. I maintain that going forward at least the OBA’s future platforms have been rendered meaningless and their party itself untrustworthy.  I reckon they’ll eventually come to regret burning up their political capital so needlessly and thoroughly.

“He’s a Marxist!”

I continue to be amazed at how many online commentators, on the various news media, react to my op-eds.

They generally don’t address any points I make, pretty much ignore my argument, and just fall into some sort of personal attack mode along the lines of “He’s a Marxist! That means he wants to recreate the Soviet Union’s dictatorship in Bermuda! Run way, run away!” or “If you’re a Marxist why not go off to Cuba or Russia or North Korea or China and stop bothering to add an alternative political voice here!”.

The most recent examples can be seen in my rebuttals to Mr Robert Stewart, in my discussion of austerity as an ideological weapon in the class war and a defence of welfare.  Neither of my articles were really all that Marxist – certainly not the welfare piece, although the critique of austerity and the role of the State did draw on Marxist analysis, sure.

Yes, I’m a Marxist.  I don’t consider that a dirty word or something bad.  I think it’s a very powerful analytical tool.  I do not support the nightmare that the Soviet Union became – to me the revolution succumbed to a counter-revolution and became some sort of fascist state that used only the rhetoric of the revolution for purposes of legitimation.  It was only superficially ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’.

And I’ve made it clear that while I draw on Marxist theory, it’s impractical to institute truly socialist policies in the Bermuda context in isolation – that is, without substantial global moves towards socialism.

The best that can be done in Bermuda is to utilise Marxist theory for the purposes of critique and raising consciousness. In terms of actual policies, I think the maximum that can be done in the Bermuda context, in isolation, is a commitment to increasingly progressive social democratic policies.  These do not go beyond capitalism. I do not think we can go beyond capitalism without profound socialist moves in either Europe or, especially, North America, on account of our economic model and geographical location.

I also think it’s important (and I’ve alluded to this above) to draw a distinction between Marxism and ‘actually existing socialist/communist states’.  I understand why these two are constantly conflated, but it shows an intellectual dishonesty at worst and ignorance at best, a reliance on a simplistic and superficial understanding.

I do not want the State in charge of everything – I do not support a totalitarian vision of the State. Indeed, I see that as one of the chief defects of the Soviets, the reliance on the State, the acquisition of authoritarian powers by the State. There is a distinction between nationalisation and socialisation, as well as the socialisation and democratisation of the State.

I doubt my detractors really care though – they’re quite content to rely on a mix of ignorance, dishonesty and personal attacks.

The post the OBA didn’t want you to see! (?)

With the rise of Facebook and Twitter generally eclipsing the role of the blogs as the premier site for online discourse, I’ve been trying to adapt. Part of that involves using the blog primarily as a site for posts, yes, but more or less ‘out-sourcing’ the discussion on the posts away from the blog’s actual comment section (which remains of course) and onto FB or Twitter.  I also use FB and Twitter to disseminate the post, using links.

So, when I write a post, I generally post it also (in the form of a link) on FB and Twitter.  I haven’t yet created a FB page for the blog itself, and instead use my Vote Starling FB page for that purpose.  As Bermuda has evolved a handful of FB groups which can be seen as sites for political discourse, I often post these links in those fora – each group tends to have a different political flavour, and this is reflected in the way they react to the posts.  Some groups enthusiastically comment, others generally ignore them.  That’s fine.

What surprised me about the most recent post, about the serious allegations arising from Mr MacLean and Mr Peniston’s affidavits, is that the OBA FB group decided to delete the post altogether.  I was given no explanation for this action – it didn’t contravene any of their rules.

So I posted it again, pointing out that it had been deleted without explanation.

Second re-posting...

Second re-posting…

It got deleted again.

So I posted it once more, a third time now, only for it to once more be deleted.

Third time lucky? No dice it seems...

Third time lucky? No dice it seems…

This time I did get an explanation, perhaps as a result of my comment in the third re-posting that it should be common courtesy to let one know why ones post is being deleted, and that I would likely just keep re-posting it and they could just keep deleting it ad infinitum.

The explanation given was basically that they’d been advised by lawyers to remove any links that ‘had direct quotes from the affidavit and links to sites re the same’.

I maintain that my post didn’t include any direct quotes from the affidavit, and I made it quite clear that the affidavit should be treated as just that, allegations, at this point.  I suppose the fact that I provided a link to the tumblr site where one can view the affidavits for oneself could fall under the ‘links to sites re the same’, but to me that’s a stretch.

I leave it up to readers to draw their own conclusions – did the OBA FB page have a good reason to delete the posts, or did they just not want their members to read the post?

 

Serious Allegations – Serious Questions?

more-questions-1238452-m

As noted in my post yesterday, there’s a developing story which I feel is going to become VERY big.  Explosively big.

At the moment it’s impossible to say anything more than these affidavits contain a number of allegations concerning key persons in the OBA Government, allegations concerning bribes, possibly blackmail, and questions about governance in general.

The entire affidavits have been made available online via a blog ‘Bermuda Corruption’ that appears to have been set up explicitly for these revelations.  I don’t know who is behind the blog or what their motivations are.

I have, however, read over the two affidavits (one from Mr MacLean and one from Mr Peniston, who appears to have acted as some sort of legal consultant – but not lawyer – for Mr MacLean), as well as listened to the audio of a phone call allegedly between Mr DaCosta and Minister Fahy.

A large number of allegations are contained in both of these, and I would advocate readers to read them for themselves at this moment in time.

The Phone Call

For those wondering about the relevance of the phone call, it should be listened to in conjunction with certain sections of Mr MacLean’s July 2nd affidavit.  It appears to concern, according to the affidavit, Mr MacLean being presented with an early draft of the legislation which ultimately became the Municipalities Amendment Act 2013, and a discussion concerning some sections of the proposed Act.

This apparent phone call and alleged discussion about aspects of the draft Act does not strike me as a smoking gun.

It’s not necessarily unusual for Government to seek feedback on various proposed legislation from primary stakeholders affected by the legislation, and to do this before publicly publishing the Act in question.  We see this with the controversial legal reforms currently being discussed (the proposed Disclosure & Criminal Reform Act and the Criminal Jurisdiction & Procedure Act) where the Bermuda Bar Association was involved in prior consultation concerning them.

What does strike me as quite unusual (to put it mildly) is if Mr DaCosta (who is not a civil servant, MP or Senator) was serving as a middle-man or facilitator for such a consulting role.  That in itself is concerning.

While not a smoking gun in itself, I think the reasoning behind providing that one audio so far was to demonstrate that there are recordings and other evidence as noted in the affidavit, to give the other claims in it greater credibility – not only can the affidavit make claims, it can put forward evidence to back them up.  I get the impression that the site is including it to achieve two goals:

  1. Fire a warning shot that those behind the site have more information and have no qualms releasing far more embarrassing or incriminating evidence going forward.
  2. Indicate that such evidence will be released over time (presumably to allow people to analyse and digest information, maintain interest – build suspense – and avoid information overload/reader fatigue).

Whether those tactics are good ones or not, well, I reckon we’ll only be able to tell that in hindsight.

Thoughts

The allegations in these affidavits could hardly be more serious.

The OBA was elected, in large part, as a result of electoral dismay concerning a perception that the former PLP Governments had presided over various scandals, alleged abuse of power and alleged corruption.  They claimed to be the party of transparency and accountability, of doing business differently.

Instead they’ve been mired in successive alleged scandals, dating (as we found out later) right to their election campaign.  And while Jet Gate continues to be dismissed as a small thing – after initially being dismissed right out of hand – by some OBA supporters, it has created (along with terrible PR by the OBA) a situation where more and more people are increasingly receptive to these allegations as being more fact than fiction.

The OBA has created for itself a major trust deficit and failed to be the party of transparency and accountability in the eyes of many voters.

And beyond our voters these issues, these successive allegations (which all seem to have more substance than much of the scandals attributed tot he PLP) have no doubt tarnished our image internationally – both politically and with potential investors.

This should concern us all.

If, as these documents allege, certain members of the OBA have abused their positions to use a carrot and stick approach towards Mr MacLean, including using State power (approvals and changing legislation to suit their needs) to induce an outcome to enrich themselves, and engaged in even some of the activities alleged in the documents, then the people of Bermuda are entitled to the facts.

These issues go to the heart of the people’s concerns about whether their political leaders have integrity, are trustworthy and are transparent.

I think we need a full and transparent investigation into these allegations, and the entire handling of the waterfront deal and municipal reform by the OBA.  This is needed to establish the facts and clear up these suspicions once and for all.

[If you’ve noticed that my above comments echo those of then Opposition UBP Leader Michael Dunkley speaking in 2007 about the BHC allegations, you’re right – I’ve done that intentionally, because he was right then, and the same applies today under his Premiership.]

Time for a Commission of Inquiry

I’m wary of using ‘royal commissions’, but my opposition is primarily semantic.  I do believe we need a major formal public inquiry, and under our existing colonial system, that does mean a royal commission.

Such a commission of inquiry should have wide-ranging powers, be charged with looking also at matters around Jet Gate (and be empowered to investigate additional issues as they arise as a result of their investigation), and be required to publish their findings and recommendations, in full, to the public.

If the OBA elects to not act pro-actively on this, and the PLP is unable to force it through a vote in parliament, then I do believe the ‘people’ have the right and duty to agitate and organise to ensure this occurs, be it through petitions, demonstrations and/or civil disobedience.

Our people are increasingly disillusioned with politics. We need to change that and restore faith in politics and democracy generally.

A full, empowered and wide-ranging commission of inquiry seems to be the best way to achieve this.

A further note

This post is already at about the maximum size I like to post, so I’ll bring it to a close here.  I just wanted to note the following:

  • A small part of MacLean’s July 2nd affidavit should also raise concerns about the role of the previous administration.
  • The way both OBA and PLP supporters are reacting to these allegations are almost a mirror image of PLP and UBP supporters reacting to other allegations pre-2012 – such is the nature of partisanship.  This doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the allegations, but it’s an observation I think worth making.
  • Expect the House of Assembly to be full of fireworks tomorrow.
  • The allegations contained in these affidavits have the potential to reignite other allegations, including those from Valentines Day last year.

Direct Rule?

With the recent revelations concerning the City’s waterfront, there have been some calls on social media for some sort of Turks & Caicos model, where the UK Government dissolves the colonial legislature and declares direct rule by the Governor in order to make various ‘reforms’.

I can see the attraction of this – it plays on the feeling that our indigenous abilities have fallen short, under the PLP and now the OBA and that our indigenous institutions are not fit for purpose.  It plays on the sensation that we’ve proven our inferiority and it’s time for the colonial ‘mother’ to come in, clean house, put things back in order and set things up so we can start again.

I get that.  And I don’t disagree that our institutions, especially our political ones, are not fit for purpose.  However, I don’t agree that the recourse to that is to surrender our democracy and allow direct imperial rule – especially when these very failing institutions are themselves a product of our colonialism.

This isn’t simply about the fact that the UK Government is beholden to the City of London, a direct rival of Bermuda in terms of our main economic sector of IB.  This is much more basic about the question of democratic principle.

If our institutions are failing, we have the power to critically analyse them and either fix them or replace them with more effective institutions for our local context.

If our politicians are guilty of corruption we have the capacity to address that within our framework – and that includes introducing and enforcing new legislation that better deals with corruption, of which campaign finance laws are perhaps the most important right now. And if our parliamentarians refuse to act, the people can apply pressure to ensure they do so – or take action to replace them.

I don’t have a problem at all with serving Ministers and MPs being arrested and facing trial in the event of allegations being made warranting such (and there’s a case for improving our laws to avoid a repeat of the ‘unethical but not illegal’ farce – unethical only because our laws were outdated).  Our democracy can handle that.  It may need some by-elections.  It may lead to a no confidence vote in the Government.  It may lead to an early election or a change of Government by other means (a handful of by-elections or defections could have the same effect).

The Parliamentary Mace is the symbol of power, loaned to parliament by the people.

The Parliamentary Mace is the symbol of power, loaned to parliament by the people.

That’s okay.  Our democracy can handle that.  Our people can handle that.  We don’t need direct rule, we don’t need imperial ‘rescuing’.

Any such move towards imperial rule sets back whatever steps we’ve taken towards democracy, it brings us back to ‘year zero’ rather than advancing our capacities.  It would be a hostile act – it is something to be resisted.  And I am confident that it will, indeed, be resisted, by Bermudians on island and off.

Will it be welcomed by some?  Sure.  Partly out of exasperation, partly out of a belief that it would allow for horsetrading and a lighter reckoning than if we ensure local accountability.

I understand the calls for a T&C solution.  But it disappoints me that some are so quick to forfeit their own abilities and sell short our indigenous capacities.  We can solve our own problems provided we believe in ourselves and rule out the nuclear option of imperial dictatorship.

Power belongs to the people.  It flows from the people.

It does not reside in Government or with the imperial center.  They only have power should we grant it to them, but that mandate can be revoked, and the power of the people can be used to correct the institutional failures of our island.  It can also be used to confront moves towards imperial rule.

If the people judge that the power lent to the OBA on December 17th 2012 has been abused, the people have the ability – and perhaps the moral duty – to reclaim that power, not to forfeit their abilities and surrender it to imperial diktat.

Another ‘Gate’ Moment?

I think Bermuda may well be approaching some form of singularity regarding the recent explosion of ‘-gate’ scandals.

As many know the suffix ‘-gate’ has over the years come to refer to a political scandal, and, like it or loathe it, has come to feature prominently in Bermudian political discourse since the OBA were elected to power in December 2012. The use of the suffix itself comes from the Watergate Scandal of 1972.

The biggest scandal taking up this suffix to date, in the Bermuda context, has been Jet Gate, which led to the downfall of the first OBA Premier and – arguably – also led to the resignation of the first OBA Attorney General.

This developing story (and it’s been dripping out slowly since 2013) might just eclipse Jet Gate, if the allegations involved are true.  And as it refers to the City of Hamilton’s waterfront, is this going to literally be our ‘Water Gate’?

The Sherri J Simmons show today had a lot of explosive revelations, and this ZBM account gives a summary of it all.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I get the feeling this story has a good chance of developing legs.

And with the OBA so far taking a ‘no comment’ approach (at least on various FaceBook threads when questioned about this), they’re not exactly inspiring confidence in themselves…